Vertebrate herbivory in managed coastal wetlands: a manipulative experiment
Structural marsh management and nutria herbivory are both believed to strongly influence plant production in the brackish, deltaic marshes of coastal Louisiana, USA. Previous studies have tested the effects of structural management on aboveground biomass after implementing management, but very few studies have collected data before and after management. Thus, to test the effects of structural marsh management on Spartina patens (Ait.) Muhl. and Scirpus americanus Pers., the aboveground biomass of both species was estimated before and after the construction of shallow, leveed impoundments. The water level in each impoundment was managed with a single flap-gated culvert fitted with a variable crest weir. Additionally, the influence of nutria grazing on aboveground biomass was measured by nondestructively sampling fenced (ungrazed) and unfenced (grazed) plots in both managed and unmanaged areas. While there was no significant difference in S. patens production between managed and unmanaged areas, marsh management negatively affected Sc. americanus production. The two species also differed in their responses to grazing. Grazing dramatically reduced the sedge, Sc. americanus, while the grass, S. patens, remained at similar biomass levels in grazed and ungrazed plant stands. These findings support the belief that herbivory has a strong influence on plant production, but do not support the claim that management increases plant production in the deltaic marshes of Louisiana.